The youngest Heisman Trophy winner in history and just the sixth all-time to be named at least a finalist the year after taking home the most famous trophy in sports, Jackson is arguably the biggest star in the 2018 NFL draft.
That fact, however, does not necessarily mean that he will be drafted as such or enjoy similar success in the NFL.
In fact, when one considers the relative lack of NFL success of the five men Jackson joined this season as two-time finalists - Oklahoma's Jason White (2003-04), Southern Cal's Matt Leinart (2004-05), Florida's Tim Tebow (2008-09), Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (2013-14) and the only two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin (1974-75) - Jackson's path to potential NFL superstardom could be one of the more hotly debated topics of the spring.
Jackson showed improved accuracy and poise from within the pocket from a year ago, keeping his eyes downfield to locate receivers breaking free late even as the rush intensifies and setting his feet to deliver strikes on NFL-caliber throws requiring velocity, timing and touch. He took snaps from under center as well as the shotgun, showing off the vision, poise and body control to quickly reset if pressured and throw accurately on the move.
For all of his obvious strengths, Jackson still appears more comfortable as a runner than a passer and he remains a projection into the "pro-style" offense most NFL teams prefer. Jackson runs the ball like a master strategist playing chest, often setting up defenders with shoulder fakes and altered gaits, stringing together moves and instinctively eluding opponents.
This same anticipation is not always evident as a passer, however. Jackson routinely stared down his primary target at Louisville, often waiting for his receiver to make his break before delivering the pass. Further, Jackson sails some intermediate and short throws, occasionally forcing his receivers to alter their routes or leap into the air to make twirling catches, leaving them vulnerable to big hits and eliminating some run-after-catch opportunities.
During his Heisman Trophy winning 2016 campaign, Jackson rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns, while passing for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns. He set a school record with 5,114 yards of total offense and scored a league-record 51 touchdowns. Not only did Jackson win the Heisman, he took home the Davey O'Brien (nation's top quarterback) and Maxwell Award (nation's top player), as well. A year earlier, he showed off the dual-threat talent that would make him a star, finishing second in the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting despite starting just eight of 12 games, accounting for a cool 2,800 all-purpose yards (1,840 passing) and 21 touchdowns (12 passing) against eight interceptions.
Though he did not receive as much fanfare, Jackson led the nation in total offense with 4,932 yards over the course of the 2017 regular season. His production is all the more impressive given that for the third consecutive year his completion percentage rose (60.4% at end of the regular season) despite attempting a career-long 8.74 yards per throw. Facing some of the most gifted defenses in the country, Jackson threw multiple interceptions in just one game all year long - tossing two in a 42-3 beat-down of Kent State in which he completed 18 of 22 passes overall and did not play in the fourth quarter.
A 4-star prospect in the state of Florida who signed with Bobby Petrino and Louisville over the likes of Florida State, Auburn, South Carolina, Ohio State, Nebraska, West Virginia, Georgia and Central Florida, among others. Graded as high as the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country by recruiting experts after finishing the 2014 season with 1,293 passing yards and 20 touchdowns along with 1,039 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
Possesses a lean, athletic frame with room for at least another 10 pounds of added muscle mass, especially in his limbs. An exceptional athlete for quarterback and a legitimate NFL-caliber athlete regardless of position. Possesses rare straight-line speed, including the breakaway speed to destroy pursuit angles and has the agility to make defenders look silly in the open field.
Boasts a rocket for an arm, easily tossing the ball 50+ yards with a simple flick of the wrist and showing the ability to drive the ball through traffic without a windup or step into his throw. Steady improvement over his three starting seasons in terms of accuracy, jumping from a 54.7% completion rate in 2015 to 56.2 (2016) and 60.4 (2017) with notable development as a touch passer, including on short passes to the flats, intermediate tosses down the seam and deep fades toward the pylon - critical throws in today's NFL.
Improved recognition of his secondary targets, showing greater patience to sidestep the rush and keep his eyes downfield rather than simply tucking and running. Despite questions about his frame and the number of hits absorbed, Jackson missed just one game (Syracuse, 2015) due to injury at Louisville. Publicly lauded by Petrino for developing into a more vocal leader in 2017. Voted a team captain in 2017. - Rob Rang 12/16/2017
For all of the gains Jackson has made as a passer, he remains quite raw in comparison to some of the other top quarterbacks in 2018, too often failing to show the anticipation to deliver passes before his receivers make their breaks. Further, while his accuracy has improved from a statistical standpoint, Jackson shows just average overall ball placement, currently lacking the consistency to "throw his receivers open" against tight coverage.
Too often he relies on his arm to deliver passes, throwing flat-footed or even falling backwards. As such, his passes sail slightly and force receivers to adjust, limiting run-after-the-catch potential. Possesses a relatively spindly build for quarterback with narrow shoulders and hips which limit the amount of "good weight" he will be able to add. -- Rob Rang 12/16/2017
COMPARES TO: Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton, Vikings. Though Jackson's cleanest comparison is undoubtedly to Vick, among the current Hall of Famers, Tarkenton's improvisational skills and big plan panache (372 career touchdowns include 32 runs) are most similar to Jackson's. Further, when the inevitable questions about Jackson's slim build arise, recall that Tarkenton - an 18-year veteran and nine-time Pro Bowler - measured in at just 6-0, 190 pounds.
IN OUR VIEW: Given their exceptional combination of raw athleticism and arm strength, it is easy to see why Jackson is so often compared to former No. 1 overall pick and 13-year NFL veteran Michael Vick. Like Vick, Jackson possesses the accuracy to deliver strikes from the pocket, albeit not necessarily with the consistency which coaches would prefer. What makes Jackson special, however, is his ability to extend the play - a factor all the more important in today's wide-open NFL.